It has been a decade since Justin Williams was diagnosed with stage-three testicular cancer. Now it's time for him to be center stage.
Williams, 28, of Saratoga Springs, is finally ready to embrace the limelight, now that his cancer is in remission and thanks to national exposure on "American Idol" last January. His first single, "Fly," was released last week, and he's back in the studio prepping tracks for an upcoming full-length album.
Although Williams is booked to perform at multiple Relays for Life all over the nation in 2011, cancer rarely enters his mind. That's remarkable because in his recent past his mind was consumed by thoughts of overcoming the disease. "I knew I was supposed to learn from this experience," Williams said.
Despite being a believer in the power of positive thinking, Williams was unprepared for the news he received five months into his mission to Spain for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2000.
On a day off, Williams had pulled his groin playing basketball with other missionaries. When he was treated for the injury at the hospital, he also received an MRI and some blood tests.
His mission president said he had called him in to talk about his health, but it wasn't about the basketball injury. Williams had cancer, his mission president told him somberly, and the disease had progressed enough that his mission was over.
Williams flew back to the United States for treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Tests showed that the testicular cancer had spread to his stomach and was on its way to his lungs. Williams had a testicle removed in addition to eight tumors in his stomach. The hardest part six months of chemotherapy was next.
"I had a lot of time to think when I was on my deathbed," Williams said. He remembered what in his life had given him the most joy. His faith. And singing.
Williams grew up in Ohio and was a member of Cincinnati Boychoir, one of the most acclaimed youth choirs in the world. Later as a high school student, besides playing football and basketball, he starred as Tony in Lakota East High School's production of "West Side Story."
Williams embarked on his mission after one year at Brigham Young University-Idaho and made a home in Utah after returning from his mission for treatment.
It was while he was a cancer patient that he decided to devote his life to music.
As he began the road to recovery, he also was becoming one of the state's most sought-after youth and young-adult vocal coaches. Now he has nearly 70 clients, ranging in age from 7 to 21. Many of his referrals come from Masa Fukuda, the director of the celebrated One Voice Children's Choir (the former 2002 Winter Olympic Children's Choir).
Williams first met Fukuda when one of his cousins was in Fukuda's choir, and they have been friends for about 10 years. "He's got something really, really special," Fukuda said. "Wherever he goes, people love him."
In 2008, prodded by friends, Williams who describes himself as an alt-soul pop singer reminiscent of Michael BublÃ© auditioned for "American Idol" for the 2009 season. He made it to the Hollywood auditions and into the group of 60 finalists before he was eliminated.
But thanks to his 2009 audition for the 2010 "Idol" season, he received national attention. That year, the show's producers chose to feature him during the audition shows because of his backstory about surviving cancer. Of course, his handsome visage didn't hurt as he was interviewed by host Ryan Seacrest.
Williams then auditioned and wowed the show's four judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi and Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. "I think you have a nice voice," Beckham said. "I think the girls are going to like you. You have a nice face, a nice presence, a nice smile. I liked you."
DioGuardi added: "I'm going to remember you."
Williams received four yes votes from the judges, and after he left the room, Jackson chided the female judges for swooning over him.
The vocal teacher didn't reach the top 24 for the most recent season, but he was signed to the national Tri-Mind Entertainment music label and has been preparing to release his single "Fly," as well as an album.
And he hopes that "Idol" fans and other music lovers will remember him.
Hear Justin Williams' 'Fly'
A clip of Justin Williams' single "Fly" can be heard at justinwilliams.com/music.html. The singer's successful 2010 season audition for "American Idol" can be seen at youtube.com/watch?v=nmrpcm9J87w